With the untimely demise of Rajiv Gandhi, we bid farewell, it seems, not only to a man but to a dynasty. The family that with only short intermissions has governed India since its modern political debut has abruptly, violently been blown off the Indian stage.
The scene for Mr. Gandhi's violent departure was Sriperumbudur, a village in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was here that nearly ten centuries earlier another Indian leader had appeared Sri Ramanujacarya, the great philosopher and teacher.
Ramanuja had taught that, in the oneness of all existence, each being is distinct in its eternal individuality. Each individual is an integral part of the supreme individual, Lord Visnu, or Krsna.
By forgetting our relationship with Visnu, taught Ramanuja, we tiny individuals are caught in the endless, turbulent, sometimes violent complexities of the material world, in the workings of a constant cycle of samsara birth and rebirth.
But by devotion to Lord Visnu, Ramanuja said, we can break free from that cycle and enter into Lord Visnu's eternal realm, to associate with Him in bliss and knowledge. As the Bhagavad-gita confirms, this perfection is attained by one who remembers the Lord at the point of death.
Of course, the individual who for a while was Rajiv Gandhi went to Sriperumbudur not to meditate upon Lord Visnu or study the teachings of Ramanuja but to campaign for his former post as Prime Minister. But now he has lost everything, and we do not know where he has gone.
Gone too are more than 130,000 people who used to live, until May, in Bangladesh. They, it seems, had less to lose, yet they too, literally with the force of a typhoon, have suddenly been blown from the stage. And, again, where they have gone is unknown.
Even back in the security of the West, every now and then the post office returns as a "nixie" the mail we've sent to a subscriber in New York, California, or Iowa and checkmarks it with an explanation: "Deceased."
Because death may come at any moment, it is urgent for us to understand the nature of Krsna's birth and pastimes. When Krsna comes to this material world or departs it, He does so not as an ordinary man, forced by the laws of nature, but as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And as stated inBhagavad-gita, one who understands the transcendent nature of Krsna's birth and pastimes leaves behind the cycle of birth and death and attains to Krsna's abode in immortality.
It is to enable us to reach Lord Krsna that Srila Prabhupada came to the West and started ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, twenty-five years ago.
Since then, prime ministers and peasants have come and gone. Yet ISKCON, perhaps to the surprise of many, has endured. And Krsna consciousness, which at first may have seemed a fad, is coming to be recognized as the perennial philosophy taught by such self-realized devotional teachers as Ramanuja.
Time moves on, leaving persons and dynasties and history in its wake. But Krsna is Time Himself, and Krsna consciousness goes on and on and on.